One of the great trends that we\u2019ve seen across 2020 is the shift to remote work, as enterprises have been faced with a simple decision \u2013 either adopt remote working as a best practice response to the requirements around social distancing and lockdowns, or simply don\u2019t work at all.\nAs a sense of normalcy returns to the social environment, offices are being allowed to re-open, but what businesses are finding is that the disruption of 2020 has become a paradigm shift. The office remains a critical resource for work and interaction, but it\u2019s no longer seen as mandatory, and employee and employer alike benefit from a more flexible \u2013 hybrid - way of working.\nCisco\u2019s recent Workplace of the Future study found that prior to COVID-19, 40.4 per cent of workers across Australia and New Zealand never worked from home. Fewer than 20 per cent (19.4 per cent) worked from home between four and seven days per month. Australia was actually a laggard here; comparatively only 25.5 per cent of North Americans, and 33.8 per cent of Europeans reported that they never had the opportunity to work from home.\nTo give you an idea about just how dramatic the change to working culture has been as a consequence of lockdowns, in Australia and New Zealand, only 14.1 per cent of employees expect to return to the office full-time now, and almost a quarter (23.9 per cent) will work from home almost half the time, between 8 and 15 days per month.\nThe challenge of this new hybrid environment\nWith a much more significant percentage of people working from outside of the office at any given time, CIOs and IT leaders need to develop solutions that maintain the interactivity between teams and customers, where the office acts as a \u201chub\u201d rather than the only place where work is done.\nThis means more than simply providing a webcam and access to a video conferencing platform. The Workplace of the Future study shows that almost half of employees feel that the shift to hybrid working styles will empower them to do their jobs well (45 per cent), however, an equal number (47.1 per cent) reported that they frequently experience issues regarding technologies and applications from multiple collaboration vendors.\nFurthermore, when in the office, employees are going to expect that the environment leverages technology not just for the purposes of communication, but also as a way of maintaining health best practices. This means that employees will want to see their office environments respect social distancing norms, including room occupancy limits, \u00a0less \u201ctouching\u201d of common areas, such as shared devices and screens, handsets, and reducing the need to plug in cables to devices.\nDelivering an experience that meets these needs has been the focus of Cisco\u2019s ongoing Webex development. For example, meetings with the AI-enhanced Webex Room 70 (for larger meeting rooms) or Webex Desk Pro (for individuals at desks or small meeting rooms) systems can be started with simple voice commands, and cameras in the devices monitor the space to ensure that the group is not too large for social distancing best practices in the space. Should the room be filled beyond capacity, attendees can leave the room without disrupting the meeting by seamlessly transferring their feed to their mobile phone. In addition to providing enhanced safety, the AI system also leverages cameras to provide the best visual clarity and meeting room experience with the remote participants, resulting in higher quality, better interactive meetings. With Cisco research finding that 98 per cent of people report frustrations with the video conferencing experience when working from home, having solutions that help to improve the quality and experience at both ends of the connection is critical to the ultimate success of a hybrid work environment.\nBeyond enabling video and voice communication, CIOs will also want to look at a more comprehensive communications solution to further develop hybrid work environments into one that offers competitive advantage. Through Webex, Cisco has developed a comprehensive feature set, including:\n\nA digital assistant that captures meeting notes and action items automatically.\nThe provision of high-quality headsets and dedicated video meeting equipment to ensure communication is clear.\nDigital whiteboarding technology so teams can interact and brainstorm while on a call.\nA seamless, easy-to-use cloud-based management tool, to provide effortless provisioning and an easy overview to the communications environment and how all remote teams are using it.\n\nDelivering a superior experience\nCisco continues to invest in the Webex platform to make it a leading solution in building hybrid work environments, and the recent acquisition of BabbleLabs highlights this. Through BabbleLabs Cisco Webex has been able to implement a solution that removes ambient noise while enhancing the speaker\u2019s voice so all of those on the call can hear in crystal clarity.\nCisco\u2019s Workplace of the Future study found that the bulk of the issues that employees have with video meetings stem from noise. Too many people talking at once (46.2 per cent), generally poor audio (38.2 per cent), and other people being in a noisy environment (30.9 per cent) were the three most common problems cited that result in a less-than-ideal conferencing experience. With the BabbleLabs technology implemented into Cisco Webex, participants can enjoy a 10X better experience in meetings than has been possible previously.\nThe value of enabling a hybrid environment of people working from home and the office in a seamless, dynamic way has been known since the 70\u2019s. However, events of 2020 have accelerated the potential to make it a reality. While remote work was viewed as a way of \u201ckeeping the lights on\u201d through the pandemic, its ability to boost employee morale, as well as workplace efficiency and productivity, are too great to ignore moving forward. However, achieving this hybrid future of work involves more than video conferencing. It requires a different way of thinking in how we interact with technology, in order to address the teething challenges that organisations and individual employees are currently experiencing.\nFor more information on Cisco Webex solutions, and how they are delivering hybrid work best practices, click here.